Interview with Goalie Rachel Mitchell

Sandy Vessey-Schneider
Water Polo Planet

Rachel MitchellI have seen Rachel Mitchell play numerous times over many years, and have watched her improve, becoming one of the top Division 1 Goalies. Rachel is currently a senior at SDSU and will hopefully lead her team to a conference championship next season. Rachel is quick to give credit and thanks to her coaches. She has had the fortune of being coached by Maureen O'toole-Purcell and Carin Crawford. Both coaches were members of our Women's National Team are extremely strong, positive leaders in our sport. Rachel has a large presence in the cage, but most notable is her confidence and focus. It is fun to be a spectator when she is playing.


Where did you grow up?


I grew up in Danville, California.


What clubs did you play for?


I began my water polo career playing for Diablo Club. I was lucky having a chance encounter with Olympic Silver medalist Maureen O’Toole who took me under her wing and coached me from 2006-2012. Maureen gave me the confidence and drive to excel in my position, which led me to play division one collegiate water polo.


What High School and College did you go to and when?


I went to Monte Vista High School and I graduated in 2012. I am currently a senior at San Diego State University and coached by Carin Crawford. I will be graduating in May 2016.


What years did you play on the National/ Olympic Teams (if applicable)?


I was named to the U.S Youth National Team in 2011 where I attended a training camp in Hungary, and my second travel trip to Hungary was in 2012.


What drills do feel are the best for the following: (a). Lateral movement, (b). Leg strength, (c). Reaction time?


I believe that repetition with every drill will help muscle memory, so most drills should be cage work because that is where we spend all of our time, come game time.

  1. For lateral movement, I believe moving cross cage quickly and swiftly with hands out helps improve my lateral movement because it helps me use the proper technique and makes sure I rely on my legs and not my hands.

  2. There are many drills that help with leg strength. I feel one of the best drills is stationary eggbeatering with lunges incorporated in front of the goal at a quick pace. Aside from lunges I believe that eggbeatering in laps, holding a heavy ball overhead keeps the legs moving fast and builds strength.

  3. One of my favorite drills for reaction time includes tennis balls. In front of the cage, I would have a teammate throw three tennis balls within my reach as fast as they could, then shoot two shots with the normal water polo balls, all while my hands are fully out of the water. This reaction time drill incorporates lateral movement, speed, and leg strength at the same time. We call it rapid fire.


A two on one counter attack is coming your way, how do you communicate with your defense?


Whenever we are faced with a two on one counter attack, my defense quickly responds by looking up at me and knowing that I point to the direction of the player I want them to go to. Most of the time it will always be the players on the strong side, but depending on the opposing player’s strength, I sometimes appoint my defense to the weak side player so I can get set on the player that is open.


What 6 on 5 defense do you prefer to work with and why?


I believe that if the ‘normal’ 3-2 defense with hands up is solid, that it should be the go to defense when we are down a player. This is a great defense because shooters tend to become timid when there are solid hands in front of them and the cage. If there is a break in defense I would prefer to go into a nickel split because there are better chances of blocking the ball when it is shot from the weakest angle in the pool.


How do you communicate with your 2m defense? Give examples of directions you give and why.


I am in constant communication with my 2m defender. If the whole set is not sealed, I will communicate with my defender where the ball is located. If I see that my defender is struggling for position, I will help them by physically pushing their hips up or helping them swing their hips around the offensive player. I am very interactive with the 2-meter defender and I always make sure we are on the same page. Being such a physically challenging game, I believe it is difficult to be wrestling with the opposing player while keeping perfect position. The reinforcement of the directions I give, whether they are physical or verbal really help the defenders stay in position.


How do handle “one on goalies”?


I usually get an extreme adrenaline rush, so the first thing I do when I am anticipating a one on goalie play, I take a very deep breath and calm myself down. I focus my eyes on the ball and the closer they get, I start to come out of the cage with my arms as high out of the water as they can go, to try to cut as much angle as I can. I understand that being big in the water in front of the shooter can be very intimidating and has definitely been in my favor.


What advise can you give a high school goalie?


Don’t let your emotions ever take over a game because that can dictate whether you block the ball or not. Always stay calm and stay solid because if your teammates see you stressing out, they will stress out too. The team dynamic is one of the most important foundations in having a successful season. So be calm, be positive, give it your all and lead with confidence always in and out of the water.


What skills, talent, and physical traits do you think are important to become a top notch goalie?


 To become a top notch goalie it is important to have tremendous leg strength and endurance. Learn skills in the cage that will keep your body in good position and ready for any type of shot.  As far as talent, emotional and intellectual leadership are traits I believe top notch goalies should acquire. The goalie is the backbone of the defense and they are relied on heavily. There are lots of pressures a goalie has and if they are able to keep it together throughout the game, they are showing extraordinary skill (especially playing such an aggressive sport). Aside from the obvious skills, I would tell every goalie that confidence is key.


What was your favorite game, and what made it so special?


The first tournament of my freshman year at San Diego State University , we traveled to the University of Michigan. SDSU played the last game of the tournament against Michigan. This game ran into triple overtime and we won in sudden death 11-10. I made a career high 19 saves in that game. Starting as a true freshman was so special and a great honor. I am lucky I was able to keep calm and focused during such an intense game. I believe that playing with the National Team and training with experienced older players at a young age made me step up as a freshman and gave me a calm edge of confidence in the cage.


How has the game changed for goalies since you played?


Since I began my water polo career, I have played internationally against some of the best players in the world. As the years pass, more players have been recruited from different countries to play collegiate water polo and incorporate a different style of play that American players are learning from. In today’s water polo world, I believe players have gained tremendous talent and creativity that adds to this exciting sport. With that, I believe these types of players challenge even the best goalies with new types of shots, thus forcing goalies to prepare for everything that might come their way.

Closing:   Several things stood  out to me in this interview.  First I liked her Rapid Fire Drill, it's exactly what a goalie needs to get ready for shots in practice and games. Next, is how she physically pushes her 2MD into correct position, I have to agree as I did the same thing when I was playing. I had to chuckle when she mentions that she gets an adrenaline rush with one on goalie situations because I think all goalies feel this, but it's her ability to focus at this time that's important. Finally Rachel's advise to young goalies is that of confidence and positive leadership, she must have learned this somewhere! Coaches need to understand that teaching these things is a privelage and aresponsibility.